Karen Seel to retire from Pinellas Commission following unsuccessful lawsuit
Chris Latvala wins Karen Seel's seat without a fight.

Latvala_Seel
Several Commissioners felt the county was targeted by lawmakers.

Pinellas County Commissioner Karen Seel will not seek re-election this year to the single-member District 5 seat.

Seel confirmed her decision with the Tampa Bay Times on Tuesday. Her announcement comes a day after Leon County Circuit Judge John Cooper dismissed a case brought by the Commission that sought to overturn a new statute that puts the Commission’s single-member seats up for election in 2022.

Seel was previously planning on stepping down at the end of her original term in 2024.

The Board brought the case against the state in hopes of invalidating a portion of one of Gov. Ron DeSantis’ priority bills (SB 524), which he signed near the end of April.

The provision is folded into the new law which overhauls state election rules. It requires County Commissioners elected in single-member districts to run for re-election after decennial redistricting, including those elected in 2020. The proposal as written uniquely impacts Pinellas County, which alone meets the criteria under the legislation. It would require two Commissioners — Rene Flowers and Seel — to run for re-election after only serving two years of a four-year term.

Several Commissioners felt the county was targeted by lawmakers, because the measure only affected Pinellas County. The Commission decided to pursue legal action in a 4-2 vote on April 26 at a County Commission meeting, filing suit three days later. Seel abstained from voting on the lawsuit.

“It’s been a privilege to serve Pinellas County all these years,” she said at the April 26 Commission meeting. “This all just makes me very sad.”

The new election provision has also been the subject of tension between Pinellas County Commissioners and one state Representative.

During their meeting to determine whether or not to file suit, Commissioners not-so-subtly referenced state Rep. Chris Latvala, who previously confirmed to Florida Politics he will seek election to the Pinellas County Commission in the 2022 cycle after mulling a run for several months. The targeted language of the bill led several Commissioners to point to suspicion of the legislation’s intent, suggesting it would help the Pinellas County legislator run for Seel’s seat in 2022.

However, Latvala has fought back against such accusations. The lawmaker, who is not listed as a sponsor or co-sponsor of the committee bill, previously told Florida Politics the legislation has nothing to do with a potential run. He instead contended it just puts Pinellas County in line with most other Florida counties. Latvala also emphasized the bill was proposed last year too.

Latvala has criticized the lawsuit as “wasteful.”

Latvala is currently filed to run for the District 5 seat on the Commission, having so far raised $101,760. He is the only candidate filed to run for the district, according to the Pinellas County Supervisor of Elections.

Florida Politics reached out to Latvala and Seel, but did not receive comment before the time of publishing.

As for Flowers, she filed to run for re-election to District 7 in April — a move she made immediately following the signing of the election bill.

Kelly Hayes

Kelly Hayes studied journalism and political science at the University of Florida. Kelly was born and raised in Tampa Bay. A recent graduate, she enjoys government and legal reporting. She has experience covering the Florida Legislature as well as local government, and is a proud Alligator alum. You can reach Kelly at [email protected]


One comment

  • Free for All

    May 24, 2022 at 6:39 pm

    When redistricting results in thousands of voters becoming the constituents of a person for whom they never had the chance to vote, they should have the chance to vote. Anyone, including the incumbent, is free to run.

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